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Students all geared up as National School Games return

When Abigail Kom took up fencing as a co-curricular activity in Secondary 1 two years ago, she had been looking forward to representing Greendale Secondary in the National School Games (NSG).

But the pandemic saw the Games cancelled in 2020, and fencing was not one of the 12 sports that featured last year as the event returned under a restricted format.

Now in Secondary 3, Abigail, 14, will finally make her NSG debut this year. She will be among 60,000 students in action as the Games, which were opened by Education Minister Chan Chun Sing on Thursday (April 7), return with all 29 sports this year.

All team sports will feature in their respective standard formats - except rugby, which will use a sevens format instead of 15-a-side.

With the compressed competition season, some sports such as basketball and table tennis will be played only at the zonal level.

However, spectators are still not allowed and parents and students are hoping that will change soon.

The last time Ms Caroline Menon-Sanders, 43, watched her daughter compete in the netball tournament for CHIJ Secondary was in 2018, and she hopes to be able to do so again with her husband soon.

Ms Menon-Sanders, who works in the hospitality industry, said: "I'm really proud of her and I'm keen to watch her again. I hope they are able to relax (the rules). My husband and I would love to go and it would be nice that both parents can be part of (the journey).

"A lot of people in school, like their teachers and fellow students, would want to go and support them as well. It's a bit sad that it'll be so muted, but I think the student-athletes will feel the same purpose, drive and sense of pride regardless."

In a Forum letter published on Thursday, Straits Times reader Tan Hock Choon also called for spectators to be allowed to support the student-athletes.

He wrote: "In the overall context of Singapore's recovery from the pandemic, is there really a difference in having a couple of dozen supporters in the ongoing school competitions when tens of thousands of people cross the Causeway daily and thousands of people are allowed to attend sports events in the National Stadium?

"Surely the risks can still be managed via the usual checks on vaccination status, safe distancing and mask mandates while still allowing spectator participation at the NSG events."

Hockey player Hiren Koban is also disappointed his parents will not be able to watch him play in his final NSG season for Raffles Institution.

But that has not dampened the 17-year-old's enthusiasm ahead of his first 11-a-side match since 2019.

The Year 6 student said: "The level of play and pressure are higher when you compete. Training in smaller groups helps us develop our skills in a tighter space. But training in a big group is better because we get to play with everyone else, and the fact is, our game depends on being able to play with 10 other people."

In his speech to the 250 students, parents, teachers, officials, coaches and Education Ministry staff present on Thursday, Mr Chan thanked the students and other stakeholders for being flexible and working together to support the fight against Covid-19.

He also highlighted the importance of making the best out of situations people find themselves in, urging the students to "seize the day".

He added: "Let us focus on what we can accomplish in the present moment and embrace every opportunity that comes along.

"Let us learn how to be flexible and adaptable so that we can make the best of any situation that we find ourselves in.

"Let us reflect on every experience, and learn from them so that we grow from strength to strength, for ourselves and our teammates."

Taking that lesson to heart is Abigail, who said: "I really want to do well for my school. But I know that I need to enjoy (the Games) in order to do well so I'll try my best no matter the outcome."